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July 6, 2006

Heading: Stage Matters, by WILLIAM S. KOWINSKI, Juggling

After a rousing Dell'Arte Players extravaganza, Big Fat Liar, this summer's Mad River Festival resumes with a new one-person show by Sara Felder called OUT OF SIGHT: A Blind Comedy about God Israel and My Mom, beginning this Thursday in the Carlo Theatre and ending Sunday.

With her virtuoso juggling and use of comedy, movement, shadow puppets and audience interaction to explore her themes, Felder has dazzled North Coast audiences before. (Formerly from San Francisco, she's relocated to Philadelphia.)

Describing the content of this show, Felder says: "What's important to me is that I've been performing in and out of the Jewish community for almost 20 years, and I've been scared to talk about Israel on stage. So the play is really a piece about trying to find my voice in the conflict, and the complexity and poignancy and heartbreak of many American Jews as they struggle with conflicting emotions. But specifically it's a piece about this mother and daughter trying to maintain their relationship in the face of these differing views."

Next weekend (July 14-16) is the second Dell'Arte Players show, Artemisia, an original work directed and principally written by Guilio Cesare Perrone (whose version of The Iliad was presented last winter), with Barbara Geary in the lead role. An imperious and statuesque Woman in Green in Big Fat Liar (the stilts helped), Geary is also Artemisia's co-creator. The show features choreography by Yong Zoo Lee (who also worked on The Iliad) and original music by HSU student YounJoo Sin.

It's based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few recognized women painters in the post-Renaissance, Baroque period. Her father (Orazio Gentileschi) was a well-known Roman artist who encouraged his daughter's talent. But he brought charges against the friend he hired to teach her about perspective, Agostino Tassi, for raping her when she was 14.

Though Tassi was jailed during the proceedings, it was Artemisia who was on trial. Then 19, she was tortured while being questioned by Tassi. Though he was convicted, his friends in high places got him released, and he subsequently disappeared.

He remained a presence in Artemisia's art. She painted portraits of Judith, who in the Apocrypha to the Bible beheads her seducer, the Assyrian commander Holofernes. "She kept returning to that theme over and over again," Geary observed. "Some say so she could paint Tassi's face on Holofernes, getting his head cut off."

Sensational enough for a Harlequin romance novel (and there is one), and a 1998 French film (very romantic and historically inaccurate), Artemisia's story gets a different treatment at Dell'Arte — "visually lush, emotionally intense and ultimately redemptive," according to Geary, who plays Artemisia.

"As she revisits scenes of her rape, she becomes Agostino Tassi in her imagination. Her model, named Julia, becomes Judith in her mind. In our terms, she works through what happened to her. It all helps her realize that she can move on — that she has other things to paint."

The Dell'Arte portion of the Mad River Festival concludes on July 16 with the annual Annie and Mary Day parade and pageant in the afternoon, and a cabaret show in the evening. Tyler Olsen, Dell'Arte's assistant producing artistic director and part-time flying pig (in Big Fat Liar) is directing this year's pageant. "For the last few years we've had a theme, and this year it's 'A Parade of Nightmares,'" Olsen said. "We've gone out into the community to get ideas. We asked people to tell us their nightmares, which could be personal or social, like war and pollution."

The North Coast community is also participating through the Mobile Mask Project, which sets up at various Farmers' Markets and other venues where people can help make masks to be worn for the event.

This year the cabaret has been moved from the afternoon to the evening to accommodate an "edgier, adults only" performance of songs and short theatrical pieces by Dell'Arte actors and staff, and outside performers. It may get "a little raucous and a little lewd," said Olsen, "but it's a lot of fun."

The Parade, featuring a salsa band, stilts and giant heads, begins at 4 p.m. in Blue Lake's Perigot Park and ends at Dell'Arte with the Pageant. The Cabaret (organized by Kate Gleason) starts at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre. The Mad River Fest concludes with the week-long Humboldt Folklife Festival, July 17-22. Check for performers and times.

As for Big Fat Liar, with his boyish charm and energy, Jaese Lecuyer was a perfect Peer Gynt to anchor this outdoor romp. All the elements of production and all the performers (including the band) made quality contributions to a successful and crowd-pleasing show. Maybe because I'm partial to the Marx Brothers and their vaudeville-derived routines, my favorite bit was Ronlin Foreman as the crazy asylum director. Not everything worked, but a lot of the excitement came from Dell'Arte pushing the boundaries, so it was still a good time. I'm looking forward to the third Peer Gynt production getting deeper into Ibsen's creation.

A final note: On June 29, American theatre lost one of its most important figures when Lloyd Richards died on his 87th birthday. By directing breakthrough productions of both Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun and August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, he brought African-American voices to the American stage permanently. As heart and soul of the Eugene O'Neill Center, he nurtured new playwrights of all races. There's more about this remarkable man on my blog,


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